PS2 REVIEW: MADCATZ FANTASTIC 4 CONTROLLERS

I've never been one to gravitate towards third party accessories when it comes to videogames. That simply comes from a time many years ago when third party peripherals such as memory cards and controllers just weren't as reliable as their first party counterparts. As a game journalist I learned the hard way that you just can't depend on unproven products when you've got a deadline looming and you need that analog stick to perform or the shoulder triggers that don't break down. But then MadCatz came along.... While I wasn't initially impressed with their products way back when, I've since changed my tune.

MadCatz not only completely overhauled their quality control years ago, but they also managed to release some incredibly innovative products. Their line of Micro-Con controllers have helped gamers with small hands enjoy their favorite hobby, quite possibly allowing them to sidestep crippling diseases such as Carpel Tunnel Syndrome.

MadCatz latest line of quality controllers are designed around the blockbuster Marvel movie, Fantastic 4 released back in July. They feature colorful imprints of Marvel's mightiest heroes like Mr. Fantastic, The Human Torch, Invisible Woman and The Thing and even throw in the nefarious Dr. Doom for those who dig the dark side a little more. We received the following for review purposes: Human Torch (PS2), The Thing (PS2), The Fantastic 4 (Xbox) and Dr. Doom (Xbox).

Reviewing a controller is far different than reviewing a videogame. A controller is something that should provide you with months, possibly years of use, so the integrity of the casing and the sturdiness of the buttons, analog sticks and shoulder triggers need to be put through rigorous testing. Of course we also have to be timely in our reviews as do not often have the luxury of time to conduct experiments - but I will say that we managed to put the controllers through enough "real life" testing as possible and that meant using them for our reviews for over a period of a few weeks.

Due to the screened images on the controllers which were impressive and colorful, both the PS2 and Xbox controllers tended to produce a little more slickness from handsweat than a first party controller. However, unlike traditional controllers MadCatz implemented rubber grips on the sides of the controllers which alleviated most of the slipperiness of the casing.

Xbox Controller:

Featuring a 10 foot cable with a breakaway end, the MadCatz FF controller(s) lived up to our expectations in almost every way.

The four face buttons (AXYB) share the same color scheme as the first party Controller-S and are located in the identical spot as they would be found on Microsoft's controller.The feel of the face buttons is looser and more spongy but I only happened to notice this by direct comparison - ie: it made no difference during gameplay. The black and white buttons on the FF controllers are 3/4 circles and aren't quite as recessed into the body as the Controller-S, but this never caused any hinderances or problems. The shoulder triggers felt tight and strong, giving a nice crunchy click when pressed. I mention this only because in the past I have found MadCatz controllers to be a little lightweight in this department. The L and R analog sticks have smaller circuler thumb grooves on the tops and I actually found that they were a little small for my thumbs and as far as I can tell I don't have unusually large hands. This is the only real complaint I have with the controller. I felt at times that my thumbs weren't sitting as comfortable as they do on the Controller-S. The D-Pad is in a cross pattern without residing in a circular setting as you'd find on the first party controller. Personally I prefer the cross D-Pad as there is generally no "crosstalk" when inputting commands - if I push Right, the D-Pad doesn't accidentally register "Up/Right". The controller also features an almost hidden Turbo button (it's not mentioned on the packaging). The Turbo feature is something I have never felt the need to use as I consider that to be cheating. If a game requires to mash on a button as fast as you can, then it's up to you do it.

The rumble feature had a nice good "buzz" going and didn't feel altogether different from the rumble feature in the first party controller.

My only other complaint with the controller is purely cosmetic, but when you're talking about a controller with a sole purpose to feature characters on it, it's definitely worth mentioning. Having to place the four superheroes on a controller which is covered with buttons and analog sticks is a daunting task to be sure. However I think the characters would have been far better served being placed in the top center portion of the controller where the large "4" logo resides. Sue Storm's (Jessica Alba) finer assets (ahem!) are completely hidden by the analog stick. Johnny Storm and Mr. Fantastic are completely hidden when gripping the controller. Now I'm not suggesting that you need to see these characters every moment while you're playing a game - if you know anything you'd know that watching the screen is of utmost importance when playing videogames - but the characters would have been always visible had they been placed in the top center area (as they are when featured separately).

Final Thoughts: The FF Controller from MadCatz is one of the first third party controllers that I've used that doesn't feel like a third party controller. My hands always know when I'm playing with something that feels even slightly foreign and I'm happy to report that the FF controller feels as great as it looks. The true test of quality comes after I'm done the review. Does the product go into a box, never to be used again? Not this time. The MadCatz FF Controllers both became permanent fixtures in "gen pop" (a prison term meaning general population) alongside my first party controllers. That almost NEVER happens. Score: 5.0 out of 5.0

PS2 Controller:

Our test controllers featured The Human Torch & The Thing - two of my favorite FF characters - not that that has any particular bearing on the quality of the product. But I will say that the screens of both characters and the design and layout of the characters on the PS2 controllers are excellent. Both the Torch & Ben Grimm are featured smack dab in the center allowing for utmost exposure. The Thing controller is decked out in orange rock and complimented by blue rubber grips, analog sticks and buttons (featuring cool "broken" designs of the PS2 face buttons) to match the character and his costume. The Torch controller features Johnny Storm in the center with a red fire motif complimented by yellow rubber hand grips and yellow face buttons with red lettering.

Unfortunately due to the characters being front and center, the Select & Start buttons normally placed in this location have been relegated to the center at the very top of the controller - near where the cord extends. This is an extremely awkward placement especially if you are playing a game that requires frequent trips to the Pause menu.

The face buttons have a little more "give" and feel a little looser than your average Dual Shock 2, but I didn't find this to be a positive or a negative. Both analog sticks perform equally well and feature a nice audible click when accessing the L3 or R3 buttons. The D-Pad is a little too raised off of the face of the controller for my tastes but it's used sparingly in most games and at least works extremely well when selecting different directions. The shoulder buttons (R1, R2, L1, L2) feel just okay, but are shaped differently and I found my fingers sometimes missing their marks - especially on the L2 and R2 buttons which have are curved on one side.

The grips are rubberized as mentioned but the grip handles are bulbous and larger than a Dual Shock 2. If you're not used to holding that extra "meat" in your hands it could actually cause a little bit of sore palms depending on how tightly you grip your controller. Since I play a lot of Xbox, the extra plastic in the hand doesn't translate into anything troublesome but one of our reviewers who only plays PS2 felt that it was too large to hold onto for extended periods. I could call him a baby but he does have a point.

The PS2 controller also sports an 8 foot cable which is great and two motors for a great "purr" like rumble.

Final Thoughts: Since I consider the PS2 Dual Shock 2 to be one of the best controllers ever designed, with its sleek look and ergonomic casing, third party controllers rarely ever pass the litmus test when it comes to even being in the same ballpark as the original. MadCatz FF controller for the PS2 comes close, but ultimately I found myself returning to the tried and true original. As a backup controller this would do just fine, but unlike the Xbox FF controller there are simply too many design differences between the original Dual Shock and the MadCatz one for me to adjust to - the relocation of the select and start buttons, the reshape of the L2 and R2 buttons and the larger grip handles. If none of that seems to matter to you, MadCatz has delivered a great range of licensed products that are as cosmetically cool as they are functional. Score: 4.0 out of 5.0

 
System: X, PS2
Dev: MadCatz
Released: July 2005
Players: 1
Review by Vaughn
RATING (OUT OF 5)
XBOX
5.0
PS2
4.0